In the US, half-dollar coins may also be called a fifty-cent piece. These types of coins have been a part of American currency since a short time after the United States gained independence and established its own government. Records of past currency types show that the first half-dollar coins were minted in 1794, though the initial design was quickly abandoned for a coin that showed a draped bust on the front and an eagle on the back. Overall, there have been eight different designs, and the coins have been made in several different types of metals.
It was common until fairly recently for half-dollar coins to be made primarily of silver. The value of the silver used to make the coin, however, soon outpaced the value of the coin and many people either started melting it down or saving it for the value of the silver. By the late 1960s, the US sought to make a less expensive version that would actually be used as a coin. Starting in 1971, the half-dollar coin was made only of copper and a copper nickel alloy called cupronickel.
Half-dollar coins currently are not used that often. Even though most change drawers in cash registers have a half dollar section, many cashiers might not be able to identify them, and most stores with cash registers store other things in that section. Additionally, there are certain things like parking meters, pay telephones, and vending machines, which do not accept them.
Casinos, however, are one exception. Some slot machines may still accept a half-dollar coin, and they may be used as antes in poker. Usually, however, these coins don’t circulate very frequently, though banks do have them and it's possible to ask for them.
On the other hand, a person who happens to be a magician might want a supply of half-dollar coins. With a diameter over an inch (2.54 cm), they are considered ideal for coin magic tricks, and they’re certainly more visible for magic shows than are quarters. Magicians aren’t the only people who might be interested in these coins. Many people like to possess one or two of these, however, perhaps either because they are unique, or because the 1964 version honors President Kennedy.